How To Get Your Kids Back Into Healthy-Eating
As we start the month of September, many of us are feeling conflicted between:
- Aggressively trying to stay in denial about summer coming to an end
- Scrambling to prepare for yet another school year
This year, of all years, feels more complicated than usual because of all of the “unique challenges” the pandemic has brought our way. But whether you’re planning to continue home-schooling or you’ve already got your child’s backpack ready for their first day of school, we’re all going to be dealing with similar challenges when it comes to raising healthy children.
I don’t know about you, but in my household the focus on “healthy eating habits” took a back seat as soon as the world shut down. Sure, my 5-year-old wasn’t suddenly eating sugar out of a bag, but our usual “guiding principles” around what and when to eat sort of fell apart. Suddenly, my daughter was snacking more than usual. Suddenly, she didn’t “feel” like eating vegetables anymore. Suddenly, she felt like “real meals” weren’t necessary as long as she had a green smoothie each day.
So, now that we’re starting a new school year, I’m bringing back some key healthy-eating principles that can apply whether your child will be at home or at school:
- Stick to scheduled-eating because otherwise it’s entirely too easy for kids to be grazing all day long. Of course, snacking between meals is okay, but if your child is anything like mine, ongoing snacking can seriously derail mealtime. Regardless of whether your child is at school or at home, I suggest that you set clear meal and snack times for your child. This schedule can be tailored to your preferences, but personally I strive to structure my daughter’s day around 3 “real” meals and 3 snacks. This schedule ensures that she’s got enough energy to sustain her throughout the day without having those typical “highs” and “lows”, and it also helps me assess if she’s really getting enough quality nutrition. If she asks for more snacks in between meals, I simply say no and remind her that her next opportunity for a meal will be in a couple of hours.
- Come up with an “approved list” with your children. While I’m all for authority, I’ve found that including my daughter in the decision-making process has greatly improved her level of enthusiasm around meals and snacks. My suggestion? Sit down with your kids and make an “approved list” of meal and snack ideas so they feel like they have a “real say” in what gets offered to them. If they suggest something like candy, use the discussion as an opportunity to clarify healthy-eating principles and offer a compromise on when candy can be allowed. For example, my daughter knows that processed snacks and treats are only allowed (in moderation) on weekends, so she doesn’t bother asking on weekdays. It’s a system we came up with and agreed-upon together, so she also doesn’t feel like I’m a dictator.
- Focus on the right food groups and try to include some protein and fibre in each meal or snack. It’s just so easy to fall into the whole “toss ‘em a granola bar” trap, trust me, I’ve been there many times. And while I’m all for the occasional convenience-bar, most processed snacks still have fast-absorbing sugar that will leave your child feeling hungry and cranky shortly after. Should you throw out your granola bars? No. Of course not. But, if you can, pair your granola bar with some high-quality dairy, nuts, fruit, or veggies so that your child is benefiting from better nutrition that keeps them fuller longer.
- Find healthier alternatives for the “treats” they love! Need granola bars? Look for brands that are organic, vegan, and even gluten-free if you can. Arya’s personal favourites are by Made Good. Looking for popsicles? I usually just blend up frozen fruit and make them at home myself because they’re so easy and delicious. Looking for a better version of the ever-popular yogurt drink? Well, I personally recommend Stonyfield Organic Kids Drinkable Yogourt because it’s organic, made with 100% Canadian Milk, contains only real organic fruit, and has only 4g of sugar. Also, they taste so good that I often grab one as a pre-workout snack myself!
- Model the behaviour you want to see from your kids. I know it isn’t easy, but if you’re constantly snacking on processed food in front of your kids, it’s going to be difficult to get them on a schedule filled with nutritious meals and snacks. Remember, you get to decide what and when they eat, and they get to decide how much. However, you’ll be making your life significantly easier if you can model the habits you’re looking for!